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The History of Stainless Steel

THE BACKGROUND

The “discovery” of stainless steel happened early in the 20th century, around 1900 -1915. Yet, as with many discoveries, it followed the accumulated efforts of several individuals and the cogs were set in motion by Englishmen Stoddard and Farraday around 1820.  In 1821 a Frenchman named Pierre Berthier (1782-1861) found that iron when alloyed with chromium was more resistant to acids than chromium-free iron and that the resistance increased with increasing chromium content.

In 1872, Messrs. Woods and Clark applied for a British patent for what they identified as an acid and weather resistant alloy containing 30 to 35% chromium and 1.5 to 2% tungsten.   But the real development came in 1875, when another Frenchman named Brustlein recognized the importance of carbon levels in addition to chromium.  Brustlein pointed out that in order to create an alloy with a high percentage of chromium, the carbon content must remain below around 0.15%. While many others investigated the chromium/iron composition, the difficulty in obtaining the low carbon levels persisted for many years, and It wasn’t until 1895, when Hans Goldschmidt of Germany developed the aluminothermic reduction process for producing carbon-free chromium, that development of stainless steels became a reality and low carbon ferrochrome became commercially available.

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